There is not much of which I’m certain in this dubious little world. I was told - truth is coherent, a shining ruby-laser beacon; but I’ve seen only fractured light, particle waves diffusing through an ever spinning prism. Life isn’t progressive; it’s capricious. Our lives unfold erratically, wild days on a string.
Perspective is faceted. Time shuffles all reason. Every line, given a half-twist, surrenders its orientation and reality bends into a matrix of probabilities.
But in this world of relative veracity, there is one pulsing detail that I believe in absolutely. Each and every one of us is crazy at our core. This is as certain as carbon, as constant as zeros and ones.
I did not come to this biting conclusion from a nascent, bitter disillusionment. This bit of leaked lightning hitched up through my skullcap when my fontanel was yet buttery, still a precious budding petal. I was two, I believe, or perhaps I’d made three when this epiphany showed up with its sucker punch hello. You’d think enchantment would last just a little while longer.
The catalyst wasn’t exceptional. It was weirdly ordinary - a simple plastic cup fired electric delirium into my trusting sensibilities and sent me tumbling through a wormhole into the spiral of infinity.
It was early in the morning, the time laundry gets done and the dew hesitates. My mother settled me down, like she did every day, on a worn cotton quilt she’d smoothed out on the porch. The bedspread was old – faded blue cambric that was fraying in places; but it had softened from use and it made me feel safe like the stuffed animals did that I slept with at night. She would double the quilt over and make it thick underneath me, to pad against the hardness of the wood paneled deck.
Our house bordered dense woods - oak, cherry laurels, red cedar, magnolia, dogwoods, and pine. It was a place I knew that squirrels made their homes, a place that made me wonder about fairies and elves. The back porch was quiet, mainly resonant with the mantras of insects and birds; so the day spilled in slowly. It peaked in and glinted but didn’t
hurry along. The new sun streaked through the screen mesh and nudged me to play, dappling checkered patterns of sunlight and shade across my bare pudding legs. My mom settled me down in the care of my dear nanny sun while she went to get done the routine that would get the day going.
On the blanket with me, that crisp sunny day, she placed a napkin with two crackers and a yellow and white tumbler filled heavy with juice. My cup had two handles, to make holding it easy, and a tight fitted lid with a spout from which I drank. There was a fuzzy brown bear on the front of the cup wearing buttoned suspenders and a smile that was chummy. The cup’s bottom was rounded so it weebled a bit when it was set down on the hard of the floor; but it wouldn’t turn over and the drink never spilled out.
I took a small sip that morning, cautious at first; apple juice flowed cold and sweet over my tongue, tickling a smile from my full, pudgy cheeks. Apple was my second favorite juice, next to grape. I drank in a gulp as deep as was possible from the sippy little spout and then set the cup down on the floor and watched while it weebled, back and forth until it finally slowed to a halt.
So there I sat lounging, delightfully content in my empty-headed daydream, when a quiet thought arose. The breeze, I suspected, whispering secrets to the trees. But the notion lingered and then blistered as if I’d been pricked by a wild hornet who squeezed windowpane acid from its razor sharp stinger.
Now not to be impertinent toward either Science or God, I am appreciative for the two (maybe three) years of vacant dove bliss that weaned me from my mother’s honeyed embryonic juices; but, had true reason been mine or even a modicum of free will I would have smashed that whispering plastic cup with a brick and idled another few years on the sugarplum dole.
Perhaps the cup’s rocking hypnotized me, I can’t really be sure, but I know what I heard. It was the hornet’s mad whisper. I heard him speak clear as day from the smiling bear on the cup, in a language I’d known in a time before birth. It brought my focus to the image of that little brown bear. He was holding a sippy cup exactly like mine. I picked the cup up and examined it closely. Indeed, the little brown bear on the front of the cup was holding a yellow and white cup exactly like the one that was filled with my juice, with two handles on the sides and a round weeble bottom. But it didn’t stop there. On that bear’s cup was another brown bear who was holding a cup. And that sippy cup had a bear with a cup, that had a bear with a cup…there was just no end to the fuzzy brown bears. There was no way to stop the repetition of cups. It was a loop like a lasso that hog-tied my thinking. The nuance engulfed me. I blinked, shaking my head roughly to bust out the tangle. I stared hard at the image but it wouldn’t clear up.
The sun had stopped playing. I rocked like my cup. In that sunlit psychotic loopy bear moment I was undone with an infinite madness that, once glimpsed, cannot be got rid of. And I knew there was more to this world than I could possibly ever work out and far less, I feared, than would ever suffice. I set the cup down and looked around at the vast menacing space. I was falling and falling and never would stop. I opened my mouth, my sweet honey-babe lips – I turned up my head and I screamed.
That’s the day I first met the Devil. For this cherry pop kickoff he lavished sugar bear sweetness and curly locks charm. He swatted the hornet and then cradled me in his downy stuffed arms. The cold empty space both inside and around me filled up with his warmth and plush grace, like climbing into bed, still flushed from a bath, to nestle under clean sheets with a favorite soft pillow.
“Hey now,” he said, snuggle rubbing my shoulders with a great furry felt paw. “Everything’s going to be fine.” He assured me.
He moved round in front and squatted down on his haunches.
“There, there,” he consoled and nuzzled my cheek. The calm purr of his voice dried my eyes better than silk.
I looked up from the blue chambray quilt where I lay strung out and fetal in grief; first peeking open one eye then the other; the fawn caramel fur with gold frosted tips cast a shimmering aura of tranquility around me. His gentle brown eyes bequeathed puddles of hope. And what is it about those wet, black noses on sweet animals faces? Won over at once, I pulled myself upright.
“Hello,” I said shyly, tucking my chin. He gave me a wink and patted the back of my head with his mitt.
“No need for tears,” he said firm but politely, “not with me here beside you.”
He plopped into my lap, burrowing into the ache of my chest like a poultice. He smelled like gingersnaps; like warm cookies and milk; like spring; like the fireside on a cold winter's day. He smelled like fresh dirt; like rain; like the heavens. My teddy – my angel - my yoke - my addiction.
He offered me comfort – maybe not the perfect bliss of not knowing but still, what with gift horses and beggars I couldn’t refuse. Maybe you wonder if a soul can truly be held to a promise made when so young.
Don’t be simple. The devil doesn’t ever play by the rules.
“Wind up my nose,” he advised with a smile. A polished brass knob gleamed from beneath his black muzzle.
I twisted the small key between my forefinger and thumb till I felt it resist and so I let go. Oxytocin disulfide, a whirr like a heartbeat and then tinkling notes filled up the back porch, like a thousand tiny popplets from a bubble cloud cushions used to wrap delicate packages so they can be shipped. A music box rained sweet notes from the bubbles, tumbling over pins plucked by the teeth of a golden steel comb.
“Brahms’s lullaby,” my care bear told me. I lay back down on the blanket and folded my legs under, pulling him up close, like a spoon.
The music was soothing but there was more to the balm – a music box whirr pressed into my ear, the drone of clockwork, like a hovering synth. At first the music played fast then it slowed to a pace that was right for the score; the mechanism’s hum in the background stayed steady. I let it wind down all the way so the last notes dragged out with a final plink, plink. Then I started it over. And again and again. The bear and I whispered. We told stories. We giggled and sang and then ate both the crackers. When my mother came in, I’d fallen asleep with the sippy spout of my cup wedged into my mouth.
He told me a secret and then turned it to honey. I gave him some juice. That sealed our pact, forever and a day that’s how he put it. He told me the secret and then how to hide it, in a place deep inside where nobody would see. He said dress it up ordinary, most people do; or, swallow the thread whole so it weaves into your skin like a dimple or a twitch. See the thing is, he said and I listened, there’s an infinite chasm where beauty and terror expand and contract without beginning or end, just an ebb and a flow. A pattern of waves. After that, there’s nothing, at least nothing quite real, it’s all just made up. We build floors over top, of cedar and pine, and tar it with mystery to bind the planks sturdy. With good pitch the covenant seems awfully strong: We find meaning up there, maybe our destiny, at least small routines. We negotiate our lives, just a hunch, nothing more – but one with communal resin to keep madness at bay. My lush little bear divined what I needed. With a twist he untangled my Möbius strip stupor. He took his cut, I gave it up freely and he gave me a backbeat to get through this strange life.
Not much has changed since that portentous bear day when I made up my mind over crackers with Satan. If anything, life keeps getting weirder and the hornet’s blistering sting grows ever more vivid. But “there’s a dance or two left” if you know what I mean. If there’s really only one trip and we’re all on the same ride, “wot the hell, wot the hell”. And when I let it all go – when I really just slide - the sunlight awaits with her grace and a game.